Date of Award
Martha E. Wadsworth, Ph.D.
Anxiety, Children, Physiology, Poverty, Reactivity, Social support
Poverty increases children's exposure to stress, elevating their risk for developing patterns of heightened sympathetic and parasympathetic stress reactivity. Repeated patterns of high sympathetic activation and parasympathetic withdrawal place children at risk for anxiety disorders. This study evaluated whether providing social support to preschool-age children during mildly stressful situations helps reduce reactivity, and whether this effect partly depends on children's previously assessed baseline reactivity patterns. The Biological Sensitivity to Context (BSC) theory proposes that highly reactive children may be more sensitive than less reactive children to all environmental influences, including social support. In contrast, conventional physiological reactivity (CPR) theory contends that highly reactive children are more vulnerable to the impact of stress but are less receptive to the potential benefits present within their social environments. In this study, baseline autonomic reactivity patterns were measured. Children were then randomly assigned to a high-support or neutral control condition, and the effect of social support on autonomic response patterns was assessed. Results revealed an interaction between baseline reactivity profiles and experimental condition. Children with patterns of high-reactivity reaped more benefits from the social support in the experimental condition than did their less reactive peers. Highly reactive children experienced relatively less reactivity reduction in the neutral condition while experiencing relatively greater reactivity reduction in the support condition. Despite their demonstrated stability over time, reactivity patterns are also quite susceptible to change at this age; therefore understanding how social support ameliorates reactivity will further efforts to avert stable patterns of high-reactivity among children with high levels of stress, ultimately reducing risk for anxiety disorders.
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Wolff, Brian Cory, "Mitigating Risk for Anxiety Among Preschool-Age Children Living in Poverty: Evaluating the Impact of Adult-Provided Social Support on Autonomic Stress Reactivity" (2009). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 954.
Received from ProQuest
Brian Cory Wolff
Clinical Psychology, Physiological Psychology